Chapter 9 : The Best Mistake You'll Ever Make (April)
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And I s'pose I'll put the Sweet Revenge thing on here, also. Well, on that note, enjoy THE LAST CHAPTER WITH IRENE'S POINT OF VIEW EVER. (oh-my-gawwwwd)
Irene Taylor was becoming very familiar with the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts.
Of course, having been there about two weeks or so with much of her time devoted to absolute boredom, it would be rather inevitable to not observe the fine, almost invisible embroidery on the sheets or the different variety of students that entered the Hospital Wing. She was very close to the door; however, it was a sheet hanging from the ceiling that separated her from the rest of the world, and it was this that kept her guessing who came in each day. There were the rowdy Slytherin boys; some Gryffindors that got themselves in a snit; a first year or two that complained about the common cold; enthusiastic Hufflepuff visitors; and a Ravenclaw fifth who came often to ask Madame Lenore questions about medicine.
Of course, it was not to be assumed that Irene did not devote as much time as possible to her NEWT exams; things like History of Magic and Care of Magical Creatures were surprisingly easy, while subjects like Potions and Charms were much harder to study for without a practical lesson. It was only about once a week that Madame Lenore would allow her to go to each of these classes to learn, but she was only allowed to stay for as short a time as possible before heading back.
She wasn't even really sure what the problem was with her. Madame Lenore visited her often, in which they became good friends, as Madame Lenore was only in her twenties or so. However, when they talked about Irene's condition, Lenore would merely say that they were running tests and exit the room hastily.
It wasn't very understandable. She knew that she had had a bit of a cough; it had begun sometime in fourth year, though it hadn't been severe enough to land her a near permanent stay in the Hospital Wing. She thought that Lenore was, at most, overreacting.
So it had gotten more severe, but that was understandable too. She had been having them less and less frequently- the last time she had had a coughing spell was in January- but even then she had only had to stay at the Hospital Wing for a few days.
This sought the question as to why she was there for such a long period of time.
Many visitors found their way to her bedside over the next couple of days, though most of these visitors were owls, holding notes of astonishment from Catherine and Nancy both. She communicated with them almost daily, along with the hope that they could perhaps visit her in Hogwarts; she had missed her alleged Hogsmeade day by stewing in the hospital.
But some people came in human form- there had been Margaret and the rest of the Ravenclaws, who had essentially ad libbed the ever exhausting chant of 'are you okay?'. McGonagall and Tom came in frequently to finish up some of the records for their Head Girl and Boy status, along with new round schedules after Easter and writing down deeds of misconduct.
And the most surprising visitor did not come often. In fact, this visitor had only come about once or twice since her start in the dreaded hospital ward, though he had stayed for a very long time each time for at least two hours.
This person cleared his throat, and Irene snapped her head from where she was looking at the small window nearby to his face, a large smile appearing on her face as she saw the man. He was donned in flamboyant shades of orange, lined exclusively with thick velvet edges, his robes falling past his feet and giving him the appearance of someone to be greatly respected, as he was. His bright blue eyes crinkled at the edges when he saw Irene, a large smile flitting onto his elderly face.
At first, she did not really quite understand why Albus Dumbledore took precious time out of his schedule to mentor her in Transfiguration. She had assumed that she could merely make up the classwork- of which was very easy- and have it at that.
Dumbledore seemed to have other plans.
Irene had a great aptitude in Transfiguration- she was incredibly talented in even Transfiguration past NEWT level. It was the only subject she always seemed to get consistently high grades on; despite this, she had still managed many Es and Os and even an A in History of Magic, of which she did not have as great a skill at.
Transfiguration was a very simple magic when used with precise care and concentration, and Irene seemed to have taken this golden rule with such simplicity that the coursework was not at all difficult. She had even gone out of her way to buy extra books on Transfiguration for her to study at her home; her mother was very lenient on underage wizardry, and thus it went unnoticed.
Being one of the most skilled in Transfiguration she did not consider herself lacking in education, but Dumbledore, who was under the thought that she would not return to his classes again, went out of his way- his precious way- to teach her complex Transfiguration. She had been forever grateful when he had first came, as she and he were both very amiable towards each other and had been for the last seven years.
"Hi, Professor," Irene said joyfully, taking a Charms book off of her lap and placing it on the table nearby, granting Dumbledore her absolute attention. Dumbledore pulled up a rickety old chair, sitting down on it as it creaked in dislike. He looked at the chair with amusement before turning his eyes on Irene.
"These chairs are awful, aren't they?" Dumbledore said casually, and, flicking his wand, he transformed the chair into a comfortable seat, in which he settled himself into. Dumbledore stuck a hand in his robes, finally fishing out a very heavy and ancient looking book in which the spine was almost fully ripped off.
"Where did you get that book from, sir?" Irene questioned, looking at the spine again with polite interest, and Dumbledore looked down at it as well, a reminiscent smile on his face. He leafed through the worn pages of the book, finally settling on a page nearby the end, before replying to Irene.
"I got it a very long time ago, as you may have noticed," he answered. "I got it from an old friend. We aren't in touch anymore, of course, but I have still used this book frequently after we lost touch. Ratty old thing, isn't it?"
Irene nodded, her eyes instead diverted on the calligraphy script of the page. It was handwritten, a fact that was not missed on Irene, who looked at the enormousness of the book with much more awe due to this fact.
It said, very strangely, 'Creating Elements - An Olde Magick Trick.' Each capital letter was very fancily adorned, with artistry at each tip of the A or swoops at the edges of the M. It was a masterpiece to look at, and it was with equal wonderment that Irene looked at the rest of the page- it was written in the exact same way, fancy lettering and decor and all.
"It's very beautiful," she breathed, and Dumbledore nodded, a small smile on his face as he, too, looked down at the fancy lettering. "Is this what we're going to be learning? How to create elements?"
Dumbledore nodded once more, fingering his wand in his very long and pale hand. "It's not easy, of course," he started, "and it can be very dangerous if used to extremes. It is very powerful, also," and Dumbledore smiled again- "but today, I would like to think that we use it for simpler purposes than gaining glory. You might not want to tell Madame Lenore about this, either." Dumbledore winked at this, and Irene laughed, rearranging herself on the stiff cot to read the book easier.
"I'll demonstrate," Dumbledore said, and he closed the book. "The incantation for this is 'Elementum', followed by whichever element you would like to conjure. I took the liberty of writing them all down as to save us some time. Lenore, I believe, does not much fancy the idea of my staying here for hours at a time."
The piece of paper contained four things- 'Incendia', 'Unda', 'Aer', and 'Terra'. Irene hastily recognized the four- Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, taking a deep breath in excitement in response. The mere chance of ever being able to conjure one of the four elements was very foreign and so surreal that she had realized that she had never fathomed doing something more than transfiguring a bird into a caterpillar.
Irene grinned, and Dumbledore smiled back at her, finally picking up his wand and putting it to his finger. "I hope you don't mind," he began to say, repositioning his wand to the center of his palm. "I tend to be a little bit showy."
Irene laughed sharply, her nerves filled with absolute adrenaline, and Dumbledore concentrated perfectly on his hand. "Elementum Incendia," he muttered under his breath, though the spell did not react, and with a jolt Irene wondered if Dumbledore was trying to scald his hand and he was merely very good at disguising pain.
And then Dumbledore blew on the tips of his fingers, very delicately, and Irene saw magic take its true course.
The small strand of fire increased as Dumbledore blew, and, shell-shocked, Irene watched the strand of fire rearrange itself to create what she recognized as a lion. It was as if Dumbledore blowing on the palm of his fingers was navigating the bit of fire- the fire dissipated after a few moments, though he twirled it this way and that, making the raven, the snake, and the badger in recognition of all of his Houses.
"I had to do the lion first," he explained. "I do enjoy my House dearly."
"So," Irene muttered, "I could do that? How- how hard is it?"
Dumbledore shrugged good-naturedly, repositioning himself on the soft chair. "It is all a matter of concentration," he explained. "You cannot concentrate too much, or the consequences will be disastrous. Then again, you cannot concentrate too little, or absolutely nothing will come of it. Do you understand? There's only one perfect spot, the dose of too little and too much, that makes it absolutely perfect." Dumbledore paused, and Irene frowned, feeling that his words had more than one meaning, even if the other meaning was brought about unintentionally by Dumbledore. "I understand if you don't get the incantation perfectly right the first time. However, I believe that you are skilled enough to accomplish it with the proper care."
Irene nodded, looking at her hand determinedly. It was very soft, no doubt a result of the comfort it had been given in the Hospital Wing. She could not help but be slightly skeptical that her right hand was strong enough to create fire by blowing at the tips of her fingers.
"Would you like to try?" Dumbledore said softly, and Irene nodded again, looking at her hand once more, then at Dumbledore, then at her hand again. "Remember to concentrate," he muttered, and she nodded. "Keep very calm and just repeat the incantation in your head again and again. You may want to say it aloud," he supplied, "if you're not getting your reaction."
Irene took a deep breath, positioning her wand on the palm of her hand as Dumbledore did. "Elementum Unda," she muttered, her mind thinking the same. Elementum Unda, Elementum Unda - making water out of pure air.
And then, right before she was to blow on her fingers, her mind unexpectedly diverted to none other than Tom Riddle, and her concentration wavered, so that when she blew on her fingertips absolutely nothing emerged out of thin air.
Irene cursed under her breath. That boy was going to be the destruction of her, she was sure of it.
"It's okay," Dumbledore said quietly. "It takes a few tries to succeed, and even doing it with such little experience is a burden. I've tried this spell at seventeen, myself," he emphasized, and Irene looked up at the elderly mentor. "It did take practice. It's very uncommon for any to get this spell on the first try."
Irene shrugged in a distressed fashion, looking at her fingers in anger and chiding her mind over its distraction. Why had she picked the most inopportune time to think about Tom Riddle, of all people? She hadn't even seen him for days, and she hadn't even thought of him for days over days.
"Just concentrate," Dumbledore had said. "You cannot concentrate too much... but you can not concentrate too little."
Concentration was the key of this ability, and Irene sighed deeply, her mind plucking out insignificant thoughts about Tom Riddle or Michael Valentine or Gloria or Abraxas. Instead, she thought about how she had failed just then and how Dumbledore had accomplished before. Another sigh escaped her.
"I'll try again, I suppose," she said dully, and Dumbledore nodded in encouragement.
She took another deep breath, clearing her mind of thought like a wave would clear a shore. Her mind became blank, so that the only sound was the rush of the waves in her ears. "Elementum Unda," she said very quietly, the words rushing in her ears.
And, ever so lightly, Irene blew on her fingers, the two Latin words that could give her power over the elements crowding her head. Ever so lightly, Irene blew on her fingers, very softly, her eyes clamped shut in anticipation.
She opened her eyes cautiously, blowing once more on her cold fingers, and she averted her eyes to the very thin strand of water that was floating eerily in midair. She blew on it again, her mind forcing it with excruciating difficulty to the left, where it swooped with grace before fading away.
Dumbledore applauded, a smile on his face that even forced Irene to smile herself, though she felt as if she had run a mile in only a few minutes. "It does tire one, doesn't it?" he said knowingly, and Irene nodded, feeling very exhausted indeed after such an accomplishment. "You do get used to it," he supplied, and Irene nodded sleepily, taking a deep breath and settling slightly into her bed. "You might not want to test your limits so much in the Hospital Wing, of course- I understand-"
"No- well-" Irene hesitated, taking a deep breath, looking up into Dumbledore's knowing and polite eyes. "Well, I want to see what earth and air look like, sir, before I- um-"
"Crash?" Dumbledore said lightly, and Irene laughed. "Certainly, Irene. Do you believe that you could manage air while I do earth? I seem to have been in here much too long and I would not like to disrupt your sleep."
"Of course," she said confidently, and the two abnormalities- an old wizard in shades of orange and a young witch in plain cotton white- placed their mahogany shaded wands onto their palms.
"Ready, Irene?" Dumbledore said softly, and Irene nodded, closing her eyes out of fatigue and nervousness. Her mind cleared, though instead of the waves it was a breeze, blowing away thoughts of the boy she fancied.
"Elementum Aer," Irene muttered, her mind repeating the same in mantra again and again. Dumbledore said his incantation soon after, and the two looked at each other, willing themselves to only think of their chosen element.
And the two blew on their fingers, and in an instant Irene felt a swoosh of cold wind prickle her fingers. In awe, she looked over at Dumbledore, who had conjured the smallest, most delicate looking leaves in existence. There were many hues of leaves; dark maroon, along with bright and dark greens, yellows and oranges, browns and even blacks swishing from the tips of Dumbledore's fingers.
"Wow," she said. She only then realized that she had stopped blowing on her fingers and was looking at Dumbledore in awe. He smiled happily in response, conducting the leaves to write the name 'Irene' in loopy script. This action brought them both to smile, though Irene's was interrupted with a yawn.
"I believe that is my cue to leave," Dumbledore said jovially, and Irene watched with sadness as the leaves faded into midair. "I am certain that you want your sleep now. Have a nice stay here, Irene. I do hope I see you again in my classes."
"Dumbledore? Sir?" Irene said tiredly. Her body was beginning to sink into the soft fabrics of the bed. Dumbledore turned around from where he had stood, and Irene took a deep breath in nervousness before beginning. "Sir, why are you- why are you doing this all for me?"
"Irene," Dumbledore said, shades of seriousness in his tone, "Irene, you have some of the most extravagant skills in Transfiguration that I have ever seen. As I assume that you will not find yourself in the Transfiguration classrooms again, I only came to teach you what I believed you wanted to know. You are good at it, Irene, very good at it. I am sure your future will be plentiful."
"That means a lot, sir," she said quietly. "Thank you for coming."
And, as a swoosh of orange robes disappeared, Irene's eyes fluttered, and she fell into sleep.
A knock interrupted her sound slumber.
It had been only but a day or two since she had seen Dumbledore, and in those few days many things had happened. She had completed her project- she was working on a widget, something that tested every skill Dumbledore or any other teacher in the school had taught her.
And now, with the priceless skill of creating element, it was completed. She had gone so far as to melt her lovely 'Glasgow' heart locket to make it look something professionally made. Perhaps, when she got out of here- she was going to get out of here- she could use it as her resume and maybe get a job besides shopkeeping.
Now, however, she was not thinking. She was dreaming, dreaming of simpler things like Michael Valentine and Dolly and spring and Easter and even dreaming of dream itself, drifting, forgetting about annoying knocks on walls and stupid boys-
Another knock interrupted her.
Her eyes opened lazily; her whole body felt taut, as if she had been sleeping for hours at a time- and at seeing the window, she surely had. Nighttime had set upon the infirmary, the moon gleaming, winking down at the lake, which reflected the light of the moon. The whole infirmary was very silent, interrupted only by soft snores-
And another bloody knock.
Irene still felt very tired; looking over at her left arm, she could see a small bandage where a syringe had likely been inserted. That arm, in response, felt very stiff, and Irene highly believed that whatever was in the syringe was enough to make her ease back into her bed.
The whole hospital wing was hushed; the only sound was the steady and soft rhythms of other patients' breathing, the knock forgotten, and Irene's slowly eased into it, her eyes relaxing on the sight of the window, slowly blurring as her eyelids closed and she eased back into sleep once more...
A knock, more persistent, interrupted her sleep once more, and she groaned quietly, stretching her legs and arms out as she begrudgingly began to sit up in bed. Whispers, unable to understand, were also coming just outside of her area, whispers that were unmistakably coming louder and angrier...
Her eyes were still flickering between sleep and alertness, her mind slowly coming back from the depths of wherever they had been. It took every single ounce of willpower for her to not fall back into unconsciousness, instead sitting up, a yawn escaping her in a last attempt to convince her to fall back asleep.
"I'm coming," she said hoarsely, and she cleared her throat. Very slowly, so as not to irritate her rigid arm, she pushed herself off of the cot, her legs stretching after being on bedrest for an undefined amount of time. "I'm coming," she repeated, though louder, so that the whispers on the other side of the curtain deceased.
In as much haste as she could, Irene pulled her messy and tangly hair back with a very large barrette, even as it whimpered with the mass of how much hair it had to manage. She grabbed her wand off of the counter- just in case- and slipped on her shoes and a coat. There was no knowing who was on the other side or where they would want her to go.
"Who is it?" she asked drearily, her hand grasping the edge of the curtain. Then again, what if it was someone dangerous? Even though Hogwarts only had three or four people that truly disliked Irene- Abraxas and Leslie being the first to come to mind- she could never be sure. Of course, her paranoia could just be a severe case of little to no common sense.
Yeah, that was it.
"It's Minerva," a perfectly controlled voice said, and Irene groaned. "Minerva and Tom. I heard from Madame Lenore that you were going to St. Mungo's, so I- well, we- wanted to start appointing people for next year. Sorry for coming so late," she added, "but Lenore said you were sleeping and I didn't want to interrupt."
"St. Mungo's?" Irene said skeptically, leaning against the wall, her hand still firmly gripping the curtain. "When did you hear that? Just today?"
St. Mungo's? It was only a cough- surely McGonagall wanted a reason to get her out of bed to go over a last Hogsmeade date? If it was really St. Mungo's, when would she go? How serious was this cough, anyway? Was this why Dumbledore had been so insistent on teaching her that trick before she left?
What the hell was wrong with her?
"Yeah, Lenore said that there was nothing else she could do," McGonagall said in a businesslike fashion, as if she thought Irene knew this already. "Sorry."
"Are you coming or not?" Tom said irritably, interrupting Irene's quiet moment of shock, and Irene felt her stomach contract in a combination of anger and fancy at his voice. "I have rounds in an hour."
"Sorry," she muttered in as venomous a tone as possible. With a heave, she pulled back the curtain, and it swung on the air it was magically connected to. She found herself looking into the equally cross faces of McGonagall and Tom.
Irene grinned. "What time is it, anyway?"
"It's about nine," Tom said lowly, and Irene nodded, rummaging through her small bag in an effort to get ready. "Rounds start at ten, so it would be very favorable if we could get- what are you doing?" Tom irritably said, and Irene blushed lightly, pulling out what she had intended to bring and stashing it in her pocket.
"It's nothing," she promised, a large grin on her face that was sure to make her look the idiot. "Really, you know, just have a little widget that I want to bring." McGonagall rolled her eyes at the bickering, but Tom didn't seem to take it for an answer, instead narrowing his eyes at her pocket in accusation.
"What is it?" he interrogated, and Irene shrugged, her hand wrapping around the object. "Is it something stupid like a Dungbomb? If you set off one of those then McGonagall's taking your place- you haven't done anything since you got here, anyway."
"I'm sick," Irene claimed. "It was probably all your fault, anyway, I was talking to you last-"
"Can we stop arguing, please?" McGonagall interrupted, and Irene's head snapped to the side as if she had been daydreaming. "We have a lot of work to do!"
"Okay!" both Tom and Irene said in exasperation, and Irene scowled, removing the hand that was not holding her gift from the curtain. She walked towards the door, many more lectures resting elegantly on her tongue-
But Irene Taylor stumbled as if she had not used her legs for days at a time, and Minerva and Tom acted instinctively- Tom grabbing her right arm and Minerva grabbing her left; the right arm tingled and the left stung.
"Ow," Irene groaned, and she repositioned herself so that she was, again, leaning against the wall. "Bloody hell, Minerva, did you really have to grab my arm that hard?" At this complaint, Minerva flushed, though she was clearly bristled by the comment.
"I'm sorry," she said, in the exact same tone as she had given when it was revealed that Irene was to go to St. Mungo's. It was too business-like, too stern, as if she had her own agenda that couldn't be scattered with trivial things like stiff arms or unexpected transfers. "I'm sorry," she repeated again, and Irene glared, her head focusing back into natural conversation, "but I didn't know your arm was broken. You could have at least told me, too, that you couldn't even walk."
"She didn't break her arm," Tom interrupted softly, and McGonagall blushed a light pink, apparently as intimidated as the majority of the student body at Hogwarts was of Tom Riddle. "You idiot, she has a bruise on her arm, probably from a syringe." He paused, and Irene duly noticed McGonagall's face heating at her outburst. "Am I right?" he added quietly, and Irene nodded, watching with strange satisfaction as both Tom and her smirked at the ridiculous expression on McGonagall's face.
"I-well-" McGonagall stammered, looking at the two in dislike, before snapping, "Rounds start in forty-five minutes, so can we stop blaming me and get on with it? I mean, even you-" and she pointed a finger in Tom's direction- "you wanted to leave early too so you could get to rounds, but you're bloody not helping at all-"
"Settle down, both of you," Irene hissed, and Minerva looked towards her in disgust as if she had just committed an unholy sin. "There are people sleeping about twenty feet away from us and both of you are bloody arguing-" Irene paused, taking a deep breath, bringing her index finger and thumb to her temple and rubbing profusely. "And McGonagall, I can't really walk right now but I'm sorry if that's inconvenient to you and your schedule."
"That wasn't- it's not a problem," McGonagall said, clearly willing herself to have a better control on her temper. "It's not. I'll wrap my arm around your shoulder, you can wrap yours around mine, and Tom can wrap his arm around your waist." She paused. "Is that a problem for you, Tom?"
Tom shook his head, and Irene forced her crimson-cheeked face up from the ground to look at him. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but Irene could have sworn that she saw a slight pink twinge to Tom Riddle's complexion.
Okay, so maybe she was hallucinating a little. I mean, after all, she was on a lot of medication, and if it could disable her from walking it could play with her head too. Not that it hadn't before- there had been crazier moments, moments when she was unconscious, when she could have sworn-
But then McGonagall put her arm around Irene's shoulder and Tom- hesitantly?- put his arm around her waist and Irene's train of thought froze, even though it was burning by the tremor of nerves that sped up her spine and made her face a cherry scarlet. The dysfunctional trio slowly navigated their way towards the exit of the Hospital Wing, McGonagall already chattering about their duties.
But even though she knew she was supposed to listen, Irene could not shake her mind off of Tom's hand, which was fidgeting nervously at her side. At times it balled into a fist; at other times it relaxed around her hip and even methodically moved from side to side. Irene's head was lost, thanks to this, her head only being used to blush different shades of rouge. Her train of thought had crashed and was not going to recover anytime soon.
And Irene could not even fathom what was going on in Tom Riddle's mind.
The scenery was nearly pitch-black; there were slices of light emanating from the lamps neatly lined along the hallway, but it was, regardless, rather eerie, as if they had been left alone in the middle of the Forbidden Forest together- it was just as cold, after all.
This atmosphere was only interrupted by the somewhat shrill and hoarse voice of Irene Taylor.
They had just concluded an absolutely riveting conversation with McGonagall, which had been essentially a one-sided conversation, sometimes venturing into becoming a rant. This urge had always been pacified by Irene, who composed herself enough to assure McGonagall that her thoughts were being heard; of course, they were not at all remembered.
Over the duration of their conversation- if it could even be called that- Irene had slowly adjusted herself and willed herself to walk, even though neither McGonagall nor Tom removed their hands from where they were placed. Irene did not necessarily mind.
But, now, McGonagall had left to prepare for rounds, leaving Tom and Irene together in a tension-filled atmosphere. Tom had claimed that he as well had to leave to prepare for rounds, but had hesitated at Irene's voice, evidently thinking that she was going to say something extra about Head duties.
Evidently, she was not, and her appearance seemed to verify that. Her cheeks were a bright, flustered pink, tufts of her hair escaping from her barrette and hanging over her face. Moreover, she was looking upward at Tom with a haphazard expression, a sight that was rather amusing as he was at least one foot taller than her mediocre height which only barely rested at five foot. She took a deep breath, calming herself, before finally feeling prepared- or at least prepared enough- to begin without a red face.
"Okay," she sighed nervously, and she slowly raised her arms, pulling out the rather atrocious barrette out of her hair. Tom watched her do so with a skeptical look on his face, looking down at the barrette as if it was an interesting thing to look at.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, and while she was sure it was intended to sound harsh, it was rather quiet, and Irene's head buzzed very rather slightly. "Are you going to give me that?"
"No," she muttered, looking down at it before pulling out her wand. He seemed both absolutely fascinated and extraordinarily confused as to what she was planning to do. "No, I'm making you a gift box. You were wondering what I was carrying earlier-" and Irene muttered something under her breath, and the barrette turned into a purple box- "and, well, it was a gift."
This comment was met with silence, and Irene took another deep breath, her face a deep red. "Look, I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done if I'm really going to go to St. Mungo's. I was going to tweak with it a bit and use it for my career-" and she took a deep gulp- "but if I have time I'll just make something else, don't you think?"
Tom shook his head, and Irene nervously took a breath, handing the violet box over to him. "Anyway, I want you to have it. You'll know when you need to use it. It's very useful, and- well- it took me a long time," she added in a small voice. "And, um- well- here it is," she finished lamely, pulling out her mechanism.
Tom looked it over before turning his gaze back to her, making her skin flush an even deeper shade of red. "What is it, exactly?"
"I can't tell you," she said hastily, and Tom's eyes narrowed. "And, I guess-"
And then the words came out like an embarrassing floodgate, piled so terribly on top of each other that it was almost impossible to even hear what Irene was even talking about.
"I guess I just wanted to thank you for being nice to me," she stuttered, her eyes firmly attached to her shoes. "Because, you know, I kept on saying things- really mean things- like how I said that you were like Abraxas- and, um, I didn't mean to- but you were still really nice to me, and-" she took a deep, shuddering breath, not even bothering to look upward, trying to compose herself- "Merlin, you know what?" she breathed, and she finally removed her eyes from the ground to look up at Tom's expressionless face, "You know what? Just- never mind. I think you know what I'm trying to say, and I think I know what I'm trying to say, so I'm just going to-"
"Yeah," Tom interrupted quietly.
"Yeah," Irene agreed, and the two stood there for a second or so, Irene alternating her gaze between the floor and his face. "'Night, Tom," Irene said lamely, and Tom nodded, looking at her gift again before looking up at her.
"'Night, Irene," Tom replied, still as muted as before, cautiously putting his gift in a pocket in his robe. Irene looked down at her feet again, before hesitantly leaning in to give Tom a peck on the cheek goodbye.
And then one of the absolutely craziest things happened. It could have been, like Irene thought, her mistake. She could have accidentally aimed away from his cheek. It could have been his mistake, really, as he had just as much to do with it as she did. It could have even been a shared accident, something that had 'just happened'.
The mistakes were still, very bluntly, there; this did not sway the fact that at the present time Irene Taylor and Tom Riddle were snogging. It could have been her mistake, it could have been his, it could have just been a pure mishap- or, simply, pure luck.
But in the end, it wasn't about any mistake, because even if one of them had accidentally made the other kiss them it still did not take away from the fact that they did not jump away from each other as soon as their lips greeted each other. It did not matter if it were a mistake; if it were, it was one of the best either had ever made.
Irene might have faintly recalled, back in February, when she had first given him a peck on the cheek, that Tom Riddle had absolutely frozen, as if he could not even begin to fathom human communication and relationships. In fact, he seemed rather shoddy at it, though this didn't even seem to show at the time. In fact, he did not even freeze at all; moreover, he seemed to melt, as if the cold atmosphere in the hallway was not apparent, like the two were in the hottest spot of the Sahara while the rest of the world was freezing.
But these facts, however exciting, however foreign they were, were completely lost on Irene. In fact, Irene was not wondering much of anything, as this kiss- wow, a kiss- could not be compared to the suave ways of Michael Valentine or the jackass-like ways of Abraxas Malfoy. It was Tom, just Tom. There was no adjective to go along with it- it was just Tom, and that was one of the most incredible things in the universe.
Irene's hands, which should have been more concerned about her bag- which was balancing nervously on the edge of her shoulder- were instead shakily intertwined in Tom's hair, frozen as if they were afraid that at the last moment he would play the angry part while she was increasingly hopeless.
That moment never seemed to come.
It was not like the kiss Michael Valentine had lent her; it was not like the embarrassing escapades she always found herself in with Abraxas Malfoy. Again, it was just Tom, some kind of undefined balance, where it was not a passionate make-out session.
Then again, it was not just a peck on the cheek.
Tom's hands were, very hesitantly, placed around her waist, so much so that Irene felt like she couldn't breathe, or think, or even move at all. There was an indefinite buzz in her head, one that was making her feel rather dizzy like she had spun around in circles for hours.
She did not know how the kiss would end- angrily, with him insisting she had thrown herself on him, or romantically. Either way, she did not know what she was going to do after that- how she was even going to fathom going to the Hospital Wing when she couldn't even feel her legs-
A loud clicking of heels interrupted the two, a quiet murmuring that could only be the voice of Minerva McGonagall's echoing in the halls. Surely she was not doing rounds on this particular floor, on this particular night- hell, at this particular time, which was now ruined, and the couple jumped away from each other in unison, their eyes averting from the other's, looking at anything else.
"Shit," Tom cursed hastily, and Irene noticed with panic that the soft clack of heels were approaching closer and closer. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.
"Okay- well-" Irene stammered, looking down at her hands and behind her alternately. "Er-"
"Go," he urged, and Irene nodded much too quickly, repositioning her bag on her shoulder.
"Bye," Irene said breathlessly, and she turned away, running as fast as she could, Tom staring rather confusedly as she left, readying herself to leave Hogwarts forever.
The fact could not be more terrifying for either of them.
St. Mungo's was very silent. There was only one noise and only one thing to concentrate on- a little machine to the direct left of Irene making a small beep every second or so. While this noise was rather annoying, the sound went unnoticed by Irene, who was staring at her last bit of parchment with distaste and anger.
It was her last letter, and that was very depressing. It had been a comfort to write to those she had loved; she had written long, nearly novel-sized letters to Catherine and Nancy, readable, though hefty, letters to Tom, and short letters of comfort for her mother, who was as worried for Irene as she was for St. Mungo's prices.
So this last letter would have to count. She was going to have to write small and she was going to have to write fast.
Irene took a very deep breath, looking at her quill, before picking up the piece of parchment with flourish. It was time to get to work. Her hand scribbled madly over the piece of parchment, stopping at brief intervals where she considered herself, taking deep breaths for thought before starting again with just as much hurry as before.
This piece of parchment would not be left blank in any inch of it, the only spaces being paragraph breaks and spaces between words. Everything else was an illegible blur, and Irene continued writing at record pace, never faltering, even though she still managed smooth swoops in the letters of her handwriting. It did still manage, however, to look rather messy.
This was of no concern to Irene. It could be read by any eye if it took the honest time, and this letter had things of so much importance that Irene knew that people would take the time. She knew that the recipients of the letter- after all, with only one sliver of parchment left, she was not going to waste it- would take the time.
She signed her name with finality and leaned back against her bed, her eyes closing in exhaustion, her hand flexing before relaxing on the bed. The messy note lay on her lap, paragraphs lining the margins to different people. Irene could only hope that the nurses would do the honor of sending it.
But then a very deep sleep overcame her and she didn't think anymore.
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